NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Surrounded by a place world famous for free spirits and freak shows, thousands came to Coney Island Tuesday to brave an annual ice cold water craze.

As CBS 2’s Steve Langford and WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club staged its annual plunge into the frigid waters this New Year’s Day, and a sizable crowd showed up to participate.

WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman Reports

“I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life. I’ve grown up in Brooklyn,” one participant said. “I’m feeling, cold.”

“It’s a way of grabbing 2013; grabbing the New Year by the collar and saying, ‘You know what? I’m not afraid of you. Bring on whatever you’ve got,” said another participant, Peggy Excell-Stone of Maplewood, N.J.

Needless to say, the event is not for everyone. On the Polar Bear Club’s own website under Questions & Answers, the first query is “Are you Folks Nuts?”

The group, which enjoys cold water swimming off Coney Island on a weekly basis, says “maybe a few of us or nuts, but all do it for the fun of it. If it’s not fun, then stay out of the water.”

Keith Greenberg and his family were not staying out of the water. They take the mad plunge ever year.

“In the grand scheme of what insanity can be, I would say this rates pretty low,” he said.

And this year, there was a certain defiance fueling the Polar Bear Club, tradition, given that Superstorm Sandy struck Coney Island hard just 64 days ago.

“I lost my house! I’m going in the same water on New Year’s Day!” another participant said.

“This is part of the healing process,” another said.

Nate Bliss runs the alliance for Coney Island, raising money for relief and sending a message.

“We’ll be back in 2013, bigger and better than ever,” he said. “Happy days are here again.”

Ross from Williamsburg didn’t even want to get out. In fact, he didn’t even look cold.

“I’m not cold, dude,” he said. “Look at this body hair. I’m the chubby, hairy dude. I’m built for this weather baby!”

Polar Bear plunges are also held elsewhere around the country and the world — some of which were a little colder than Coney Island this New Year’s. At Chicago’s North Avenue Beach Tuesday, about 50 hearty souls braved 18-degree air temperatures to plunge into the 37-degree waters of Lake Michigan.

The annual Polar Bear Club plunge in New York raises money for Camp Sunshine, serving children with serious illnesses. This year, part of the funds raised will go to Sandy relief efforts.

Have your ever taken the Polar Bear plunge, or would you? Leave your comments below…

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